* Shares placed at 3.35 euros, discount of 4.6 pct
* Follows major equity sale of Snam shares
* Strong demand for Italian assets - UniCredit (Recasts lead, adds banker comment, shares)
By Stephen Jewkes
MILAN, May 22 (Reuters) - UK and U.S. based investors have bought 60 percent of a 360 million euro stake in Italian power grid operator Terna in a share offer that shows demand for choice Italian assets is still surging even as its economy fails.
Italian bond yields have sunk and Milan’s stock market jumped almost 40 percent since the European Central Bank promised last July to do all that was needed to defend the euro, more or less putting a floor under Europe’s debt crisis.
After a pause for thought in the first quarter, the Bank of Japan’s new round of monetary easing has brought further buying in the past month as investors search for returns on the huge flow of cheap loans issuing from major central banks.
The private placement of Italian businessman Romano Minozzi’s 5.36 percent stake in Terna comes just weeks after oil major Eni sold a stake in gas transportation group Snam in Italy’s biggest equity sale in years.
“Appetite was strong. After the big Snam placement it shows even in a strong market rally and with investors expecting a correction the demand for Italian assets is there,” UniCredit CIB Deputy Head Olivier Khayat told Reuters.
UniCredit, the sole bookrunner in the transaction, said the price had been set at 3.35 euros - a 4.6 percent discount to Tuesday’s close, pushing market prices down 3 percent.
Italian investors took up just 25 percent of the offer with U.S. accounts buying 15 percent and British investors 45 percent. Khayat said some 54 percent of the offer was bought by hedge funds while the rest was taken by long-only funds.
Still, investment managers are thinking twice about which sectors they pick in an Italian economy that is deep in recession and facing further years of budget austerity and reform to reduce a huge public debt.
Across Europe, businesses more immune to the economic cycle like telecoms, healthcare and utilities have been among the top performers in the past 3 months, with double-digit percentage gains, while banks and miners have struggled.
Terna’s regulated business provides it with shelter from a crisis that has already seen the euro zone economy contract for six quarters and its shares touched a record high in early May.
Europe’s biggest independent power grid operator is 29.9 percent controlled by Italian state-backed financing agency Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.
Earlier this month Eni sold 11.7 percent of Snam, also controlled by CDP, for 1.45 billion euros in what was the fourth biggest accelerated bookbuilding deal this year. ($1 = 0.7769 euros) (Additional reporting by Toni Vorobyova; editing by Danilo Masoni and Patrick Graham)